Failures in Leadership Part 2

In my earlier post I wrote about Moses at Meribah and how he failed to follow God’s instruction.  As a result, God forbade him to lead the people to the Promised Land.  However, that was not the end of the matter for Moses.  The issue arises again in the book of Deuteronomy, and Moses only compounds his error.

In 1:37, Moses said, “Even with me the Lord was angry on your account, and said, ‘You shall not go in there.’” (ESV) In 3:23-28, Moses asked God to allow him to enter the Promised Land.  God response was basically, “Don’t bring this up again.  Joshua will lead them.”  Why?  Moses said in verse 26, “But the Lord was angry with me because of you….” (ESV)  Moses says the same thing in 4:21.

God had told Moses that he could not enter the Promised Land because of his disobedience and failure to trust God to reveal His holiness.  However, on three occasions, Moses did not take personal responsibility. Instead, he pointed at the people and said, “God was mad at me because of you.”

Any leader can understand Moses frustration with the people. And just about any leader has done the same thing. However, any leader fails when he starts to blame his own personal shortcomings on the people that he leads.  Moses compounded his first sin by failing to take personal responsibility for it.  The best thing a leader can do when he sins or just makes a mistake is to own it and confess it, before the people he leads if necessary. As husbands, as parents, as teachers and church leaders, we will make mistakes and even sin.  The best thing is not to follow making mistakes with making excuses.  Own it. Confess it. Learn from it.


Failures in Leadership

We often look to Moses as the model of leadership in the Old Testament.  In fact, he was a great leader.  He led a people who had grown up in a polytheistic system and led them to belief in the one, true God.   He took them through perils and dealt with complaints and uprisings.  There is no doubt that he was a great man and a great leader.

Yet, in the end, he did not see the goal fulfilled.  He did not personally lead his people into the Promised Land.  God would not allow him to do so.  The story of why is in the following passage of Scripture:

Now there was no water for the congregation. And they assembled themselves together against Moses and against Aaron. And the people quarreled with Moses and said, “Would that we had perished when our brothers perished before the LORD! Why have you brought the assembly of the LORD into this wilderness, that we should die here, both we and our cattle? And why have you made us come up out of Egypt to bring us to this evil place? It is no place for grain or figs or vines or pomegranates, and there is no water to drink.” Then Moses and Aaron went from the presence of the assembly to the entrance of the tent of meeting and fell on their faces. And the glory of the LORD appeared to them, and the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “Take the staff, and assemble the congregation, you and Aaron your brother, and tell the rock before their eyes to yield its water. So you shall bring water out of the rock for them and give drink to the congregation and their cattle.” And Moses took the staff from before the LORD, as he commanded him.
Then Moses and Aaron gathered the assembly together before the rock, and he said to them, “Hear now, you rebels: shall we bring water for you out of this rock?” And Moses lifted up his hand and struck the rock with his staff twice, and water came out abundantly, and the congregation drank, and their livestock. And the LORD said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not believe in me, to uphold me as holy in the eyes of the people of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land that I have given them.”

(Numbers 20:2-12 ESV)

God’s order was to speak to the rock.  Tell it to give water.  Moses was not in the mood to speak to rocks.  He was angry.  After all the people had seen, they still demanded more.  They accused him of being a failure as a leader, and he had enough of it.  So, instead of speaking to the rock, he spoke to the people.  He called them rebels and struck the rock with his staff instead of following God’s directions.  It cost him the opportunity to see the Promised Land.  Why was God so ‘mean’ about what was such a small, understandable thing?

One idea is that the people were starting to become more impressed with Moses’s  staff than they were with God.  After all, Moses had parted a sea with it.  Now, God wanted to correct the misconception.  He wanted the rock to give water at the power of His word without any evidence of Moses’s strength being behind it.  Moses made a mess of it.  He got mad and showed his anger.  God had wanted to show Himself holy but Moses did not trust Him to do it.  Instead of God’s word, Moses used his staff and his own strength.  Interestingly, God gave water anyway.  He displayed his compassion and love for the people Moses had called rebels.  However, from Moses he took the privilege of seeing his task through to the end.

When we are in positions of spiritual leadership, whether that be in a church, small group or as a parent, we must have as our goal to display God’s holiness.  When it becomes all about us and how we feel, we are not likely to do that.  We will use our own strength and we may impress those around us with our ‘staff’–our intelligence, our plan and our hard work.  Interestingly, God may give us success anyway though not for our sakes.  It will be because He cares and loves those around us who need His touch.  But we will have missed something, a great opportunity to see the holiness of God on display in our lives, our ministries and our families.  So, let’s take care to let God be God and not stand His way.

Moses made another mistake related to this one.  That will be for another post.



Being Mindful of the Holy

Suitcases lie scattered all over the house.  In this place or that, there are piles of things, clothes, books, papers and toys.  My wife is packing our bags for our move back overseas, and I am trying very hard not to feel guilt while watching her do it. I try to be helpful in other ways such as keeping up with other household chores.  Moving is kinetic chaos.

Actually, the world is kinetic chaos, or it seems to be.  Whenever we return to the US from overseas, I have this sense that I am running and everyone around me is running.  In our society, people live at the same pace as a hamster spinning a wheel in his cage, and it seems that people often equal the hamster in progress.  Our society is nervous, and we are running off its nervous energy.

Even in the things of God, many people live in the frenzy of kinetic chaos.  Church activities are additions to the chaos.  They are things on a check list to done, and afterwards, move on to the next church activity or sports practice or recital or club meeting.  We, the body of Christ, run in and out of his presence.  We make small talk with our fellow family of God members about the game and the stock market news or hunting and fishing or politics and elections.  We enter His presence and hardly give Him a thought.  Our presence with His body is just another part of the chaos of life and not a relief from it.

How completely sad and utterly pointless.  What is the point of gathering as a body to worship if we are not going to worship?  What’s the point of entering His presence if we aren’t even going to acknowledge it?

For the past ten days or so, I have been reading the book of Leviticus, the laws for the priests about serving in the Temple.  So many times, they are warned to treat the things of God as holy.  They were not to take anything lightly.  They served a holy God, who demanded that He was treated as such.  How often do we look up from our kinetic chaos to see the One who never changes.  Do we even acknowledge His  presence when we worship or is the focus on us?

So, let’s slow down, and worship God.  As we go to worship in the coming week, let’s recognize who He really is, and worship with hearts and minds fully engaged with God and not distracted by the kinetic chaos.  Rather, let’s give Him our chaos and see Him make sense of it.

A Vocabulary Question from My Six-year-old

This morning, my daughter was listening to her favorite children’s radio programs when she heard the word, “forced.”

“What does forced mean?” she asked.

“It is when someone makes another person do something,” I replied.

A look of surprise came over her face as she said, “Without saying please!”

Being Vigilant about Religious Freedom

I would rather not write about politics.  There was a time in my life that politics consumed me, even a time when I considered going into politics.  Thankfully, I did not, and in my writing, I have avoided the topic as much as I can.  However, I think that I must address one issue.

Recently, the President Obama’s administration ruled that religious organizations have to buy insurance for their employees that covers reproductive services including contraceptives if those employees work in an aspect of the organization that provides public services.  This is particularly odious to many Roman Catholics.  I am not a Roman Catholic.  I do not share their view that all contraceptives are sin.  However, I, too, find this ruling a problem on the basis that it violates the principle of religious freedom.  There has been a strong reaction by many religious groups and not only the Roman Catholic Church.

However, the administration and many on the left say this as overhyped.  After all, in their understanding, religious freedom is not being attacked.  A column that appears on the website of the Atlanta Journal Constitution written by Jay Bookman, reflected this view.  It is entitled, The overhyped controversy over contraceptives and the law.

Bookman’s column reads like a memo from the White House on how to answer objections to the ruling.  He begins by saying that places of worship are exempt. He writes:

As many of you know, churches that are members of the Southern Baptist Convention are not allowed to hire women as pastors. The Baptists base that practice on 1 Timothy 2:12, in which Paul writes that “I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man.” The Catholic Church follows a similar practice, based on similar reasons. (Actually, it is more complex than that, but I will give him a break.  A column can only be so long.)

Ordinarily, it would be illegal under federal law to deny a woman a position of leadership or authority on the basis of gender. I think most Americans probably support those laws by now. However, because the selection of priests and ministers is so central to religious faith, and because those leaders perform an essentially religious rather than secular role, anti-bias laws don’t apply to such jobs. Doing so would clearly infringe on religious liberty, which is protected under the First Amendment.

So far, so good. He continues:

However, if a Baptist university denied tenure to an English professor solely because she was female, or if a Catholic hospital refused to hire a woman as its CEO, the exemption cited above would not apply. In both cases, the law has long held that the professor and CEO are performing a largely secular function in the secular world, so secular rules apply.

 Once again, I have no problems yet.  However, wait for the overreaching analogy.  Here it comes:

That is essentially the same logic used to develop proposed rules for health-care coverage, which by federal law require insurers to provide coverage for contraception.

Those rules do not apply to what is known as “a religious employer,” defined as an employer that “(1) Has the inculcation of religious values as its purpose; (2) primarily employs persons who share its religious tenets; (3) primarily serves persons who share its religious tenets.”

A church, mosque, synagogue or other house of worship would qualify for such an exemption. However, a church-run university, hospital, day-care center, etc. — entities that do not have the inculcation of religious values as its purpose, that do not primarily employ persons who share its religious tenets; and do not primarily serve persons who share its religious tenets — would not be exempt.

Those entities are performing a secular function, in the secular world, and employing in most cases people with a wide variety of religious beliefs. Therefore, the people working in those entities deserve the same degree of legal protection as their fellow Americans.

Now, that seems logical if you accept the premise by which he and the administration operate that says the religious precepts of an organization should have little or no bearing on what they do outside their places of worship.  Bookman has compared apples and oranges in the first part of his column.  There is a fundamental difference between a Southern Baptist affiliated church hiring a female pastor and a Baptist university hiring or promoting a female English professor.  One violates the religious conscience of the people sponsoring the organization: the other does not. The passage that he quotes deals with authority within the church and the teaching of the Bible, not an English class.  In other words, the law does not impinge upon the freedom of the faithful to practice their faith in the public sphere nor upon their understanding of Scriptures.
In the case of forcing Roman Catholic sponsored agencies to buy insurance that covers contraceptives, it does impinge upon that freedom.  Those agencies and other religious agencies are an outward expression of the religious beliefs and inner faith of the churches or other religious organizations that sponsor.  Bookman and the Administration are operating from a secular assumption that says religion is a private matter, confined to the place of worship and to the private life of individuals.  For many religious people, whether they be evangelicals, Roman Catholics or Muslims, religion is not just personal in practice.  It affects all aspects of life and must be expressed publicly through their lives and through the institutions they support.  To compartmentalize their lives between the secular and the spiritual is to be a hypocrite.  To deny their freedom to practice their faith and religious beliefs in the public realm is to deny their religious liberty and to violate the Constitution.  To require that they go against their conscience in the public realm is also violates that liberty.
That is the reason that the Administration’s ruling is a big deal to people of many faiths.  Though no one has suggested it, it may be part of the reason a social conservative Roman Catholic swept primaries and caucuses last night.  The ruling is seen as step toward a radical secularization of American society that will ostracize the religiously faithful and deny their religious freedom.  Contrary to the wishes of the left in this country, this issue will not diminish in importance as long as people of faith remain vigilant about religious liberty.
Here’s hoping that I never have to write about politics again.

Panic on the Journey

Our family is in the midst of packing and getting ready to move back overseas.  We have done this several times, and my wife has become an expert at packing.  If I fold a sheet, it takes up a large box.  If she folds a sheet, it fits inside my wallet.  Needless to say, I stay out-of-the-way until something heavy has to be moved or until it is down to those things that don’t fit.  Then, I try to find the space.  But up until those points, I usually just get in the way.

What I do is trying to take care of the other things such as calling airlines about baggage allowances  and the business details of making a move.  I should have an easy life during this time.  It shouldn’t be so difficult, but there is something about my character that makes this stressful.  I am a worrier.  If I don’t have something to worry about, I panic, because I must have forgotten something.  And if something happens to cause me to think that plans won’t work out, I almost go into a panic.  No one around me may realize it, but inside I foresee scenarios which have end results similar to a massive meteor striking the earth.

That is what happened to me this past week.  An e-mail came that made me wonder if the plan for travel was going to work out.  I panicked.  I worried.  I stayed up late at night so I could worry longer.  Within a couple of days, another e-mail came that indicated that I had misunderstood the other one.  All was well.  I had no reason to worry years off my life.

In the book of Exodus, the Israelites had just crossed the Red Sea and had seen God deliver them from Egyptian slavery.  Things seemed to be going well until they got to Marah.  There, they found water that they could not drink.  They complained and griped.  They began to have nostalgia about the good old days of Egyptian slavery.  God showed Moses a tree which Moses threw into the water to make it drinkable.  They all drank water and moved on to a wonderful place called Elim where they found 12 springs of water and 70 date palms. (This story is found in Exodus 15.)

They were on the path that God put them on, faced a set back and panicked.  That patterns sound familiar to me.  It sounds like me.  We often read these passages and think, “Silly Israelites.  They never learn.  If they had just waited on God, they would have water.”  But, they did not know that.  They had to learn to trust.  They had to learn to see set backs as a time to wait on God and not a time to panic.

And I have to learn that lesson also.



Adventures in Idiocy

My wife was about to give birth to our third child, and due to a difficult pregnancy, she was on bed rest.  That left me to take care of our two sons and to handle domestic duties on my own.

We received a package in the mail from my mother.  In it was a pair of pacifiers for the coming arrival.  I don’t know why, and perhaps I was correct, but I thought those pacifiers needed to be sterilized and that they best way to do so was to boil them in water.  I learned an important truth that day.  I never really multitask: I only deal with multiple distractions.  I don’t remember what I went to do, but whatever it was, after a while, our oldest son said to me, “I smell something.”

We followed our noses to the kitchen and to a lone pot setting on the stove, bereft of water but with two plastic pacifiers melted to the bottom.  It was “palm meet forehead” moment as I said quite loudly, “I’m an idiot.”

My son asked, “Why?”

Frustrated I said, “Because I melt pacifiers.”

Weeks, perhaps months, later, my son was talking with my wife about his imaginary friend, Weasel. He said, “Weasel’s an idiot.”

“Why do you say that?” asked his mother.

“Oh, wait,” replied my son. “He can’t be an idiot. He’s never melted pacifiers.”

In my son’s mind, he had a definition of the word “idiot” and my picture was beside it.

That was about fourteen years ago.  Since then, we have added an another child who is now six years old.  We have four children in all.  Yesterday, I was in my usual Sunday morning routine of getting up early, starting the coffee and sitting down to read the Bible and pray in preparation for a day of worship.  So, I carefully measured out the water and ground the coffee beans, put them in the filter and started the pot.  As I was reading, I heard the plaintive call of my little girl.  On the way to her room, I passed through the kitchen.  Had there been blood spread across the floor, I am not sure it would have matched my horror.  I had started the coffee maker without putting  the coffee pot back in place.  Hot coffee was spreading across the counter and falling like Niagara to the floor.  I turned off the pot quickly hopping as I felt the hot liquid absorbed by my socked feet.  Hearing once again the call of my daughter, I figured that she wanted water, grabbed a cup, put water in it and hurried to her room.

Handing her the cup, I said, “Please drink it quickly.  I have a problem in the kitchen.”

The look on her face reminded me of my son’s look as I stood over a smelly pot of melted pacifiers so many years ago.  Later in the morning, my daughter asked, “What was your problem?”

I told her about the coffee pot and the mess.  Quite possibly, the definition of a problem in her mind has my picture beside it.  At least, I am not her definition of an idiot. Well, not yet.

Introverts in the Church

Recently, I read Introverts in the Church by Adam S. McHugh, who has a related blog.  As an introvert, I had wanted to read it for some time.  All in all, I am glad that I did.  I have had several “personality” tests and the one area that I consistently nearly max out in is introversion.  Being an introvert carries several challenges but also several advantages.  That seems to be the point of McHugh’s book, but it is a point that can be easily lost if we take a “woe is me, I’m another victim” approach.  Clearly, McHugh did not want to go there; however, at times, his book could fuel the fire for someone who did.  It is worth the read, but as with all things, one should read with discernment.   The reader should approach it with an openness to grow instead of seeking of validation.

I was able to relate to many things in the book.  Nothing intimidates me as much about visiting a church or small group as the fear that they might say, “I see we have a visitor. Stand up and tell us about yourself.”  They may as well say, “Stand up and try to hide that you’re trembling while we all stare at you.”  It isn’t because I am afraid to speak to a crowd.  I can stand up and teach and enjoy that experience.  However, when I enter a new group I want some time to observe and figure things out.  I want to process what is happening and think about it.  I definitely don’t want to open my heart to strangers and I probably don’t even want to speak at all.  However, I have learned that saying hello will not kill me, though I might feel like it will at the moment.

I found some points of the book helpful.  Some suggestions on spiritual disciplines and being in leadership were helpful.  However, I had trouble relating to some things that he said about corporate worship and church.  I am much more comfortable in a “traditional” evangelical church than he is.  And it was at the point of being involved in church that I thought he missed an opportunity to make a stronger point than he did.

If an introvert approaches church life totally turned inward with a “let me stay anonymous” attitude, he has missed God’s purpose for being a part of church.  In an extrovert approaches church life with an attitude of “be quiet while I talk and get my kicks from being here with you people,” he has missed the point as well.  Church is a place where we are to give ourselves for others for the sake others.  It is the place where we are not to think of ourselves more highly than we should and to put the good of others above our own. (Romans 12:3 and 1 Corinthians 10:24) The church is the body of Christ, and each part is dependent upon the other.  Most of our problems are not issues of introversion or extraversion but of self-centeredness or selflessness.  Introverts and extroverts can both struggle with self-centeredness.  As we walk with Christ, take up our crosses and crucify self, we are better able to serve others with both the gifts and the personality that God has given us.

Victory Over Sin Is Like College Football

College football season is over.  This means two things.  Many people, such as me, have more free time for more constructive endeavors in life.  It also means that many of us have regained some of the higher thinking skills that we had before the season began.  Skills that help us know that an offensive line with no depth and consisting of mostly first year players really has no chance to carry a team to a national title.  Skills that say it is irrational to pin my happiness to the performance of an 18-year-old running back.  Skills that say yielding to the temptation to call a national sports radio program and berate said 18-year-old for not having the maturity of a 30-year-old is not the most rational conduct for grown men and women.  Skills that say believing that there is a national conspiracy to keep my team down is, well, one the most moronic ideas hatched thus far in the 21st century.

College football is all about victory, and the meaning that we pin to the word victory.  We believe that what they do on the field somehow makes us better.  Somehow it means that our school, our state or our region of the country is better than the other school, state or region of the country.  We take the actions and performance of people we probably don’t even know personally and make it all about “me.”

In the spiritual life, we do much the same thing with the idea of “victory over sin.”  Among evangelicals, this is a common theme, although in some less orthodox circles it may now be called victory over bad thoughts and not so nice things.  If we are going to call it anything, let’s call in “victory of sin”, but let’s get the right perspective about it.

Along with my Bible reading each day, I have been reading Holiness Day by Day by Jerry Bridges, who has been one of my favorite Christian authors for many years. Earlier this week, I read in that book about the problem with emphasizing victory over sin and why it is usually not productive.  Victory is all about us.  It is self-centered and success-oriented.  Our concern is not to be personally defeated.  I might add that it can be legalistic, emphasizing victory over just this one sin as opposed to another.  Bridges wrote that rather than victory over sin we should seek a life of obedience to God.  In such an emphasis, the central figures are not me and this sin.  The central figure is God alone.  We understand sin is horrible not because it defeats me personally but because it is an affront to the glory of God.  Victory over sin will come as a by-product of obedience.  It cannot serve as a worthy motive of obedience.

Metaphors in Marriage

Typically, I try to give my wife a day off each week.  I think a stay-at-home mom is one of the hardest working people in the world, especially when that combines with home school for children.  So, one day a week so that she can do some of the things that she enjoys and that refresh her.  On that day, I become the home school teacher, an activity that has raised my respect for all teachers, be they home-school teachers or more traditional school teachers.

One thing that I have to do is go over the literature assignments with my oldest daughter.  During that time, we try to recognize how an author used metaphors and similes.  Metaphors and similes communicate a great deal about how one feels about something.   Men and women often use metaphors for their spouses and not very flattering ones.

For example, when a man calls his wife “the old ball and chain” he is expressing not only his opinion of his wife but his opinion of marriage.  He sees his wife and marriage in general as something that holds him down and takes away his freedom.  When a wife sees her husband as a “beached whale” or “couch potato”, it not only expressed her opinion of  his physical condition but also of his work ethic.  She sees him as something in the way that she has to work around.

Our metaphors for our spouses say a lot about us and how we view what God gives us.  In the Genesis account of creation, God said, “It is not good that man be alone.”  That is not to say that being single in inherently bad and undesirable.  Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 7 that there are circumstances when being single is best.  However, God saw Adam and saw that he needed a companion.  So He said, “I will make a helper as his complement.” (Genesis 2:18, HCSB)

The best metaphor for spouse that we can use if think with the Bible in mind is “gift.”  My wife is God’s gift to me for my good.  As we relate together I learn my own short-comings and I seek to grow in the image of Christ.  She helps me and completes (complement) me.  If I use less flatteringly metaphors I show scorn at what God has given and at what God has said is good for me.

Therefore, before we say something scornful about our spouse or to think of them as less than a gift from God, we should think twice, and then thank God for the grace that He shows us in giving us our spouse.